A friend of ours in DC describes the opposition to the proposed NASA budget as the “homers, haters and boomers.” The homers want as much federal spending as possible in their home state or district. The haters reflexively oppose anything at all that comes out of an Administration they despise. The boomers are nostalgic for the 60s and want to recreate the imagined glories of Apollo. Some of our most vigorous opponents affiliate with two, or even three of these disjointed fellowships (as do many on the other side.)
But the real enemy of progress in civil space is a dramatically more insidious opponent that infects the body politic, an adversary so sinister and commonplace that we have come to take it for granted, the corrosive background noise of democracy. Our real enemy is apathy.
There are probably no more than a dozen members of Congress who care one wit about space. At least 90 of the 100 Senators who unanimously consented to the proposed NASA authorization bill knew essentially nothing about what they were consenting to. An even worse version of an already awful bill would have coasted through the House if it hadn’t run into a bit of opposition from a group of “homers” “standing up for” their own home state interests.
The “general public” isn’t any different. The sky is a nice place to look at on a warm summer night. The future is a nice place to dream about when more compelling needs are satisfied. But we all know that most people are content to be observers, watching the world go by and only acting to make sure their personal needs, wants and desires are fulfilled.
I am not bemoaning these facts, merely reminding you that they are indeed facts. Decades spent convincing people that the nearly unlimited resources of the Solar System can both protect Earth’s fragile biosphere and create a freer and more prosperous life for future generations has taught me that the overwhelming majority of people who can be convinced will never do anything to help make it become reality.
This doesn’t mean that we should give up. Quite the opposite. It means that the impact of those few who are willing to act to change the world is dramatically greater than our numbers would imply. Members and fans who do little more than subscribe to a magazine or click on the button of a mouse can easily be overwhelmed by small groups of dedicated people with a clear vision and a willingness to act.
If you are one of the elect few willing to act, you should pick up the phone today and call your Congressperson to say that they should vote against whichever version of the NASA authorization bill comes up for a vote. Even better, if you are willing to give of your time and/or money on an ongoing basis to open the space frontier to everybody you should send me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Will Watson (email@example.com) a note and tell us about your interests and skills. As Margaret Mead is supposed to have said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”